Middle-Earth and the Power of Providence

Among the many themes woven into the narrative of The Lord of the Rings and all the other tales of Middle-Earth, one that is especially prominent is that of the characters finding themselves in situations far greater than they could ever have expected. Their initial goal in setting out on their adventure is to make their own world better in some way, but in so doing, they enter a perilous world full of age-old battles and other disputes. Fortunately, these intrepid heroes are not left to their own devices in this bewildering new world. Indeed, some might go so far as to say they were especially chosen for this particular task.

This concept is examined in The Hobbit, the story of Bilbo Baggins and how he helped his Dwarf friends defeat the dragon Smaug and take back their ancestral homeland. Along the way, a curious set of circumstances lead him to find a simple golden ring that allows him to turn invisible. This ring proves quite useful in Bilbo’s subsequent adventures, enabling him to succeed at a variety of exploits and even survive a terrible battle. But though Bilbo is tempted to contribute his feats to his own cleverness, the wizard Gandalf has a different perspective. He suspects there is more to the ring than Bilbo realizes, and he also understands that no small deed leaves the world at large unaffected. He tells Bilbo,

“You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

The Hobbit, p. 276

In other words, something much greater is happening than Bilbo simply finding a magic ring that ultimately results in a great expansion in his wealth and life. In fact, what neither Bilbo nor Gandalf currently know is that Bilbo’s ring is the Ring of Power, a weapon forged by the Dark Lord Sauron himself in an attempt to bring all the peoples of Middle-Earth under his dominion. When Gandalf finally learns this, he knows the Ring must be destroyed.

By this time, however, the Ring has passed to Bilbo’s young cousin Frodo. Frodo is rather wiser than his cousin, and he readily accepts Gandalf’s explanation of the Ring’s evil. The servants of Sauron are hunting the Ring even now, and it is only a matter of time before they it. Yet somehow, despite all odds, Sauron has still not found his precious weapon. At the time when it would have been ideal for a servant of evil to stumble upon the Ring, Bilbo instead put his hand upon it in the dark and claimed it as his own. And now, the Ring has come to Frodo, perhaps one of the only people in the world who can actually destroy the thing.

Gandalf cannot help but wonder at such an extraordinary turn of events:

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 54-55

Once again, Gandalf makes reference to something other than luck at work behind these events: some power that is greater even than Sauron, since its will overrides that of the Dark Lord. Though The Lord of the Rings never explicitly names this power, the answer is hidden throughout the story. For Sauron is not the only omnipotent being in Middle-Earth, nor indeed is he among the greatest. There are also the Valar, the Powers of Middle-Earth—and these great beings answer to Eru Ilúvatar, the Creator of all things.

The Silmarillion details the creation of the world, explaining how Ilúvatar created the angelic Ainur and taught them a song that sprang the world into being. One of the Ainur, however, rebelled against Ilúvatar’s music and composed his own. Yet at the end, when Ilúvatar commanded silence by a wave of his hand, the rebellious Ainu’s music was woven into the rest of the song, every bit of it turned to Ilúvatar’s ultimate purpose. “‘And thou,’” Ilúvatar proclaimed, “‘shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite” (p. 17). That is to say, this great Creator is in complete control. It is he who has orchestrated every event in the world, and any attempt at evil will only work itself back into his original plan.

When comparing this to our own world, the similarities between Ilúvatar’s control over the world and the sovereignty of the one true God are exciting. We, like Bilbo and Frodo, may find ourselves in circumstances far beyond our comprehension. The world is insane, and it often feels like the work set before us is too difficult. It’s easy to wonder how we got ourselves into these situations. But as Gandalf reminded Frodo, he was clearly meant to receive the Ring. Something far more powerful than Sauron was at work in this. In the same way, we who are followers of God don’t randomly fall into things. God has so orchestrated our steps that we are right where He wants us to be. He may be instructing us to do what seems like an impossible task, but in reality, it’s exactly what He’s always meant for us to do. There are no chances, no coincidences, with God. Everything is for a purpose, and He works in strange, incredible ways to see that purpose fulfilled.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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